Spinal cord injury (SCI) in mammals has a poor outcome because of a lack of regeneration. Alteration of the local environment after injury may induce regeneration. However, the passage of blood-borne or exogenous neurotrophic substances through the blood-brain barrier (BBB) is not well characterized in either normal or injured states. We investigated the permeability of the BBB in normal and injured states to two markers of permeability (albumin and sucrose), to a peptide (ebiratide), and to a cytokine [tumor necrosis factor-alpha(TNF)]. We found that in normal mice the cervical and lumbar areas of the spinal cord were more permeable than the thoracic area and the brain to all four substances. The penetration of the alpha-MSH/ACTH analogue ebiratide and of TNF, substances that have saturable transport systems across the BBB and may be involved in regenerative processes in the CNS, followed a regional pattern of differential permeability comparable to that of albumin and sucrose. Complete transection at the lumbar level induced a temporal change in the permeability of the BBB. The increased permeability, as measured by the radioactively labeled tracers albumin and sucrose, was most apparent in the lumbar region proximal to the transection. After SCI, the permeability to ebiratide remained unchanged, suggesting that disruption of the BBB did not affect the transport system for ebiratide. By contrast, the increase of permeability to TNF exceeded that detected by the markers albumin and sucrose. This enhanced permeability was inhibited by excess unlabeled TNF in the blood, showing saturability. This suggests that the transport system for TNF may be activated in SCI.